A MUCH-needed first Championship win of the season for Sheffield Wednesday and a personal triumph for Jos Luhukay.
In dropping to the bench a trio of star names that included Fernando Forestieri for the visit of a Millwall side that had taken a liking to Yorkshire opposition last season, the Owls manager took arguably the biggest gamble of his Hillsborough career.
Defeat would have meant the worst start to a season for Wednesday since returning to the second tier in 2012.
Instead, Luhukay’s bold selection – Academy duo Fraser Preston and Matt Penney were also handed their first league starts – paid off handsomely as goals from man of the match Barry Bannan and Tom Lees sealed a precious three points.
That Preston and Penney rewarded their manager’s faith with impressive displays only added to the satisfaction felt by Luhukay at the final whistle as he waved briefly to the 21,349 crowd before disappearing down the tunnel.
With good cause, too, as Wednesday had also had to display some steely resolve during the final stages after Ryan Tunnicliffe had halved the deficit with 18 minutes remaining.
Jiri Skalak and Jake Cooper both had efforts blocked in stoppage time for a Lions side who last term had taken seven victories and 23 points off the Championship’s half dozen representatives from the Broad Acres.
Last night, however, there were to be no capital gains in the White Rose county as Wednesday, with Atdhe Nuhiu and Forestieri by now having entered the fray from the bench, standing firm during that late onslaught.
Fittingly, Bannan was the last to leave the field as Hillsborough saluted his contribution to the victory.
Not only was the Scottish international a threat all night long but he also gave Wednesday something they had strived for with no success in the opening three fixtures. Namely, the lead.
It was a goal worthy of winning any game, too, never mind just breaking the deadlock on 16 minutes as Bannan thundered a 20-yard volley into the net off the underside of the crossbar.
The Scot came close with another curled effort later in the first half, as did Joey Pelupessy with a thunderbolt from 30 yards that flew inches over the crossbar with Jordan Archer in the visitors’ goal well beaten.
Bannan was again involved when Wednesday next threatened the Millwall goal in first half stoppage time.
His curled free-kick found centre-half Jordan Thorniley, who really should have hit the target with a header that went just wide.
Steven Fletcher did strain to reach the ball to find Lees, who fired into the net only for the linesman to indicate Thorniley’s initial wayward header had gone out of play for a goal-kick.
Any fears, however, that this miss would cost the hosts dear were dispelled just 39 seconds after the restart.
Again, Bannan was involved with it being his free-kick on the left flank that eventually found Lees.
Despite the angle being tight and getting smaller with each fraction of a second as Archer advanced from his line, the Owls captain maintained his composure to finish in impressive fashion.
That appeared to be that against a Millwall side who had shown flashes of inspiration in the first half only for an inability to play a decent final ball to let down that impressively quick approach play.
Three times in quick succession just after the half hour mark, the Lions broke in numbers only to squander the opening with a wayward pass.
Jed Wallace was the worst culprit, his awful cross wasting a numerical advantage that had three defenders trying to stem a tide containing six Millwall attackers. That lack of attacking punch, however, ended with the introduction of Tom Elliott from the bench just after the hour.
Not only did the former Leeds United trainee bring some much needed pace to the visitors’ attack, he also set up Tunnicliffe for a chance he simply couldn’t miss.
Cue that late onslaught as Skalak and Wallace fired wide, before Dawson and Liam Palmer proved to be Wednesday’s heroes with last gasp saves on the line to ensure Luhukay’s big gamble of leaving out Sam Hutchinson, Nuhiu and Forestieri had paid off.
Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson; Palmer, Lees, Thorniley, Penney; Bannan, Pelupessy, Reach; Preston (Boyd 79), Fletcher (Nuhiu 70), Matias (Forestieri 70). Unused substitutes: Wildsmith, Fox, Hutchinson, Lee.
Millwall: Archer; Romeo (McLaughlin 46), Hutchinson, Cooper, Meredith; J Wallace, Tunnicliffe, Saville, O’Brien (Skalak 61); Morison (Elliott 61), Gregory. Unused substitutes: Amos, Onyedinma, Ferguson, Wallace.
Referee: A Madley (West Yorkshire).
Owls striker Lucas Joao has extended his contract at Hillsborough until the summer of 2021.
The 24-year-old Portuguese international – currently out injured – was one of a group of Wednesday players whose contracts expire in the summer.